Organized chaos

It can be hard to imagine how a classroom works when there are 15-20 children ages 3-6 that are all doing their own “work” for 3 hours.  In a Montessori classroom there are limited group lessons (these are usually limited to 3-4 children at a time when they do occur).  Children get individual lessons from the teacher (Guide) and then are able to choose that work anytime they want.

 

Children happy at work

 

The rules of the room are simple: Children may choose any work they have had a lesson with, it MUST be on the shelf, work with it as long as they choose, then put it back when they are done.Even though most lessons are given individually, the children often team up to work on puzzle maps, or dishwashing, or to have snack.

 

working together on a puzzle map of North America

working together on a puzzle map of North America

 

A group of older children reading lists of words with different spellings

A group of older children reading lists of words with different spellings

 

working independatly

working independently

This method works because it allows children to be self- directed (within reason).  The teacher can offer suggestions and give new lessons when the child has mastered something so there is always a new challenge to explore.  There are also all the lessons they have already mastered to go back to any time they choose.  

 

Within the classroom there are multiple “peer teaching” moments.  Because the children stay in the same class for 3 years and sequentially move throughout the curriculum many of the older children have already mastered something that a younger child can not yet do.  This affords a wonderful teaching moment for an older child and a great interaction for the younger child to experience what they will one day be able to do.

 

A Child who has already mastered the map of North America is helping replace all the pieces.

A Child who has already mastered the map of North America is helping replace all the pieces.

 

You may think that the classroom where children are able to choose their own activities all morning would result in chaos.  However, it is quite the opposite.  The children go from work to work, setting up their table or rug, exploring with the material and then cleaning up.    This is repeated over and over again.

 

Looking at a new book toggery- the child in the middle is reading to the other two.

Looking at a new book together- the child in the middle is reading to the other two.

Because the children are happily engaged and busy, the room is calm and humming with activity.  It is a wonderful way to spend a morning!

 

The simple things

The beauty of flowers!

The beauty of flowers!

One of the this I love about working with children this age is that they MAKE me slow down and notice things I would probably miss.

A 2 (or 3 or 4)  year old does not care how fast they get to the corner, but they do care about all the rocks, flowers and animals they pass.  In the classroom and out in the play yard I am constantly reminded to slow down, listen to what they say and examine things with them

 

Children do not have the same life experiences we do, so things we may find mundane, they revel in!

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Examining rocks…this is a favorite for many children!

I know that its not always an option to slow down to a childs pace.  Sometimes we just don’t have 10 minutes to let them put on their shoes or look at an insect.  But when we do, it is a wonderful gift to take it all in!

 

I can read!

Most children begin reading at some point during their primary years in the Montessori classroom. This usually starts after the child knows all of the sounds of the alphabet- (thank you sandpaper letters).

sandpaper letters

sandpaper letters

We have found that it is easiest to show the child a few sounds at a time- naming the sound and then thinking of words that start with that sound- until one day the child can recite all the sounds back to us.

Children begin reading all phonetic words- which means they can actually sound out the entire word. There are no blended sounds like ee, or sh. There isn’t silent e, or any other exception.

My son has finally begun to show an interest in reading- yes, he is in the first grade but he has decide that he actually enjoys it now so the task of reading is so much easier!  He is really starting to excel!

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We started with this amazing set of phonetic books- real phonetic books!  Most readers for children contain a lot of words you can’t sound out or words with blends in them. This can be really discouraging to the emergent reader

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If you are looking for a great set of books for your child at home check these out- you can’t go wrong!  There are  multiple sets; as your childs skill level increases, so does the vocabulary and amount of words in the books.

 

Our Days

Our days seem to go by so fast!  During the mornings we have a multitude of activity going on in every direction. 2, 3, 4 and 5 year olds carrying on their chosen work, socializing, learning new lessons, the list goes on and on.

I often have my phone close by so I am able to document our time together. I love this because it gives parents a “view” into a classroom that they normally are not a part of.

I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts about our days together. What the children are doing and how we spend our time together.

Today, like every day, there was a flurry of work and discoveries going on. I love when children decide to attempt something new and are beaming when done.  They will often show their friends or me, not for approval, but just to “share the love”.

These two friends had a new lesson with metal insets (an amazingly fun exercise in handwriting by tracing geometric shapes and then coloring). When they were done we talked about how you could write your name on your work if you chose. One child said “but I’m not sure all the letters in my name”. So…. We decided to make name tags to look at.  The other child noticed that she “usually writes a big E at the end of my name because I can’t do the other one.”  The two children decided to clean up metal inset and take out chalk boards to practice

This is their outcome- both very proud of their accomplishments

 

The first time she tried a "smal e at the end"

The first time she tried a “smal e at the end”

 

"All the letters in my name"

“All the letters in my name”

Explosion into Learning

We know that children learn at all different rates.  They are interested in different subjects as the year progresses, so they often work intently in one subject then another.

The Montessori materials are all interactive- so the children learn whatever is being taught by working with the materials.  Montessori teachers LOVE repetition- and so do children!  The more they repeat with the same material the more the concept is solidified for them.  Each material prepares the child for  something- fine motor control, geometry, math, reading., and much more!

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From the adult perspective it seems that children can take a LONG time to memorize or “learn” new information. We know that our children have great memories, they can remember things we said or places they went for many years.  However, it does take time for a child to integrate something new so they can regurgitate that back to us.  It takes trial and error for the child to figure it out by themselves without adult interruption.  This is where the true learning happens.  This is the beauty of the Montessori classroom.

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Her first time laying out 1- 10 in order (even though some may be backwards- we will address that next time!)

 

Children often work with numbers, letters, shapes, scissors, etc for MANY months before they are able to recall the information, or perfect the movements needed to perform a task.  This results in this explosion that we see with our children.  They quietly work and work through the preparations and then “WOW!” now they can cut a straight line, or draw a letter, or read, or identify numbers into the thousands.

handwriting

handwriting- after months of tracing sandpaper letters and chalk writing (and erasing!)

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making a leap to reading books

 

Children learn at their own pace, we just need to sit back and trust in the fact that when they are ready, and have had the all the right preparations, it will fall into place.  Effortlessly it seems!

Learning Naturally

For children in a Montessori classroom academic learning comes easily and naturally.  They are able to follow their own rhythm and move through the set curriculum at their own pace.  This means that they all learn the alphabet, reading, numbers and math in a very different way than in other school settings.

First, each child is shown letters and numbers on an individual basis, progressing through lessons at their own pace.  This also means that the teacher  (Guide) is aware of what EACH child knows and has time to spend with every child to keep them going.  Children are shown different montessori materials, which will be highlighted in later posts, that allow the child to “learn” each concept- whether it be memorizing sounds or numbers.

Our children learn by practice with the materials.  The teacher shows each child how to use a material and then the child practices and practices and practices.  It doesn’t hurt that the materials are incredibly inviting!  They also have multiple uses- along with a variety of games that make them fun and build memory.

making cards

making cards

There are NO worksheets to tracing pages in the Montessori classroom.  Not because handwriting practice isn’t important, rather that this practice is accomplished in other ways.

Children practice handwriting when they are write a set of cards, or a story, or make a book.  They practice writing numbers when they record math equations or copy number cards to make a poster.

handwriting

handwriting

There are numerous math games the children play- alone or in groups that imbed the knowledge of each operation into the childs mind.  They understand that addition is putting numbers together and that division is making equal groupings.

"tens" and writing

“tens” and writing

What draws me to the Montessori method is the way that each child gets individual time with their Guide, they develop a relationship, the Guide knows (and keeps detailed records) of what each child knows and what each child needs to work on.  I love the individual approach and the time spent with every child in the community!

Community

I love coming back to school after an extended break.  The children are all DELIGHTED to see each other again.  I often get emails from parents that their child had been asking about school….”How many more days?”

By January the children have formed their own community.  They are settled in at school and have found out alot  about each other.  They know who to ask for help getting water, or tying a bow, getting shoes on and much more.  The oldest children LOVE being the leaders in the group.  They have been in the classroom for many years now and know how things work.  The younger children look up to these “helpers” and enjoy receiving help from them.  The oldest children adore the younger children and are thankful that they have someone to “impart their knowledge to”.

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Helping tie and apron

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holding fabric for a friend who is making a pillow

walking a friend to the gate for dismissal

walking a friend to the gate for dismissal

The Montessori model allows children to be in the same classroom for three years which not only has academic advantages but also social and emotional advantages.  They are allowed to move through the 3 years being the youngest, middle and eldest in the community.

Working together

Working together

polishing together

polishing together

When we arrive back at school the children will tell each other stories about what they did when they were away.  They will happily work and be thankful for being back together.

community!

community!

Time to PLAY!

We had our Winter Family Social at The Little Gym in Lake Oswego this year.  This is an event  that the whole family participates in; parents, grandparents and siblings.  I wanted the children to be able to be in a safe, fun environment with some free time as well as a portion of more structured time.

We found the right place!  When we arrived the children (and families) were welcomed into the gym by energetic, fun staff members.  They had a variety of apparatus set up for varying ages.  We had siblings as young as 6 months up to 9 year olds.  There was something for everyone.

After the first 20 minutes or so the children were invited to come to the large red mat and participate in a class designed just for us!  The children took part in a number of different activities which included follow-the-leader, balls, running, jumping, twirling sticks while singing and dancing to music.

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“look at those moves!”

Then the inflatable run came out.  The children watched as it slowly inflated.  Afterwards they had plenty of turns running, skipping, hopping and having all sorts of fun on this inflatable run.  When it was time to transition to the next activity all of the children piled on, laid very still and waited for it to deflate.  I have never seen them all so still and quiet at the same time.

We ended the morning with fun parachute games and then a light snack in the party room.

My son had SO much fun that we also signed up for a few days of “winter camp”, where he spent three hours in the gym and loved every minute of it!  I know that he will be begging to go back over spring break and summer.

If you haven’t checked out the Little Gym, I highly recommend it for some SERIOUS FUN!

www.thelittlegym.com/lakeoswego

 

School time

Four years ago when I was getting ready to open Community Montessori I structured the program around two things: the Montessori philosophy, and offering a flexible schedule.  I had been in the Montessori world for 10 years at this point, every school I worked at, or even knew of, only offered 5 day schedules.  I know from my experience that more time spent in the classroom is beneficial.  However, I had a 16 month old and was working part-time.  I felt that he would still benefit from being in the classroom part-time.  Ended up that a few other parents that I knew felt the same away, and CMS was born.

It can be hard as a parent when you want to spend time with your child but also want them in school some days. Or if you work part-time and want your days off to be with your child.  It has been a trend at CMS that children start 2 days per week, but are soon adding days.  I think that this is a good transition for the child and parents.  It gives everyone a chance to ease into school life.

As a teacher I will always recommend that families have their child attend as much as they can.  I know that it might take longer for the chid to adapt to school if they are only attending 8 times per month.  Think about when you started a new job or began a new hobby.  The more time spent the easier it is to feel at home, know how things work and what is expected.

If a part-time schedule is what works for a family, I would recommend consecutive days of enrollment.  The Montessori materials are interactive and your child learns new concepts when they spend time working with the materials.  When they attend consecutive days your child is able to practice concepts with momentum.

As enrollment approaches I am sure that many families will be taking this into consideration.

Preparations

Preparations.

We know that all young children have a lot of knowledge they need to acquire.  In a Montessori school learning is self-driven and is done effortlessly.  When the child is young they busy themselves with washing tables, polishing brass, stringing beads, moving cylinders in and out of blocks, matching colors, dishwashing and even making flower arrangements.  Believe me, the children LOVE this work.  They are completely content and joyful going about their daily activities, being part of a group and knowing that they took part in caring for their classroom and themselves.

washing a chalkboard

Maria Montessori knew what she was doing!  Not only did she figure out a practical life curriculum that children LOVE, design and make real materials at a child size, but also embed preparations for reading, writing and mathematics into each lesson!

Each lesson is shown with a left to right movement of washing, scrubbing or drying.  When a child washes a chalkboard they start on the left side and make strokes across the board (just like when you track a line with your finger in a book).  This happens dozens of times each day with a variety of work: washing a table, washing a mirror, scrubbing an underlay, scrubbing the easel…..you get the idea.

 

washing a mirror

When the child is ready they are shown more complex lessons with many steps.  The lesson of dishwashing involves multiple trips to fetch water (some warm and some cold).  Gathering dishes from all over the room then rinsing, scrubbing, rinsing again, drying then replacing in the correct space in the classroom.  Then a whole series of tasks for clean up.  All of which the child does without any help!  This experience helps prepare children for multi-step processes later in math and language.  It aids in establishing sequences which they can call on later when they are working on division and sentence analysis.

dishwashing

Children are also able to work on their fine motor control and manual dexterity within the scope of practical life lessons.

Here children are washing leaves, polishing brass and snapping.  Each child is preparing for holding a pencil and forming letters without even knowing it.  It is amazing to me that these lessons not only give the child a deep sense of satisfaction but also prepare them for what is ahead in such a natural way.

snapping
polishing
leaf washing